Columbus not only discovered America, he also discovered race in the modern sense of the word, contends Florida State University professor and cultural historian Gary Taylor. During his third voyage to the New World in 1498, Columbus realized that skin color wasn’t attributable solely to proximity to the equator or poles, as believed by ancient and medieval scientists.
What happened after that, Taylor claims, comprises the secret history of whiteness, and he’s written a new book based on his novel idea.
"In many ways, 1498 was more important than 1492," he said.
"Buying Whiteness: Race, Culture, and Identity from Columbus to Hip-Hop" (Palgrave, 2005) examines that sense of being white conceived in 1498 and born during the 200 years that followed. Taylor traces the inexorable evolution of modern white identity, measuring its impact through the eyes of black and brown observers and the history of art, literature, law, science and sexuality.
"Columbus sailed south to Sierra Leone, where the native inhabitants were black, then sailed due west to Trinidad and the top of South America, where he encountered native inhabitants who were ‘white.’ This completely destroyed the traditional explanation for human diversity, leading to the rise of racist theories about radical biological differences between peoples and the superiority of the ‘white race’ to all others," said Taylor.
"Buying Whiteness" is volume two in the "Signs of Race" series, for which Taylor serves as general editor.
An internationally acclaimed expert in critical race studies with a doctorate from Cambridge University, he has edited the complete works of Shakespeare (Oxford, 1986) and written extensively about the practice and theory of editing in various periods and genres. Author of "Reinventing Shakespeare" (1989), a revisionist theory of Shakespeare’s reputation, and "Cultural Selection" (1996), a revisionist theory of artistic reputations generally, Taylor proposed an alternative theory of male sexuality in "Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood" (2000).
In 2002, Taylor won a Guggenheim Fellowship for his research project on Edward Blount, the chief publisher of the 1623 Shakespeare First Folio; he will lecture on his findings next year at Oxford University. His "Moment by Moment by Shakespeare" (1985) garnered a Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Book.
Taylor joined FSU’s faculty in 2005 as the George Matthew Edgar Professor of English. He teaches Renaissance literature and culture.